We know from the autobiography of Dr.
Edward Livingston Trudeau that in the early 1870s the
church grew from the vision of guests and guides who
held worship services in the parlor of Paul Smiths Hotel
on Lower St. Regis Lake. Paul Smith himself gave land
and logs for the construction of a small chapel seating
about 40 people. The chapel was consecrated on
September 13, 1877 by Bishop William Doane,
who preached from the text of Psalm 132, “Lo, we heard
of it at Ephratah and found it in the fields of the
wood”. Later the chancel was enlarged and transepts
added to each side in order to seat one hundred fifty
worshippers. Dr. Trudeau himself served as Warden of the
mission for the remainder of his life, and his wife
decorated the church and prepared the altar for every
Sunday throughout the summer months.
December 4, 1927,
the year of its 50th anniversary, the log chapel was
ravished by a fire which completely destroyed the
building, as well as its memorial windows and
ecclesiastical ornaments. A Building Committee under the
leadership of Dr. Ransom S. Hooker and Dr. Francis B.
Trudeau immediately met in the home of Mrs. Whitelaw
Reid to lay plans for a new structure, which would not
only be more nearly fireproof than the old building, but
would also retain the simplicity, beauty, and atmosphere
of the Adirondacks, for which St.
John’s-in-the-Wilderness is noted.
The present stone structure was completed in
1930. It was designed by Mr. William Distin and
preserves, as much as possible, the spirit of the chapel
it replaced. The beauty and originality of the new
building have been greatly enhanced by stained glass
windows, which serve as memorials to persons who have
been connected with Paul Smiths and the surrounding
community for many generations.
Today, more than one hundred years after the
consecration of the original log cabin, worshippers come
to the Episcopal service of the Holy Eucharist and
Sermon held during July and August and the first Sunday
Baptisms, marriages, burials, and even commencement
Paul Smiths College,
have been held here, thus honoring the original
intention of the congregation to minister to the entire
community. The Rev. William B. Lusk was the first rector
to serve St. John’s-in-the-Wilderness. Throughout its
history, the congregation has been fortunate to receive
spiritual leadership from many dedicated clergy. These
have included: The Reverends William B. Lusk, Edward M.
Parrott, Erville B. Maynard, J. Reginald Butt, George H.
Easter, George O. Nagle, and Robert Lawthers. Worship
services are enhanced by the music of the Hooker
Memorial Organ and by the singing of a volunteer choir.
A discussion group, held weekly at a parishioner’s
summer home, offers the congregation additional
opportunity for spiritual growth. Because of its ties to
the surrounding community, the congregation continues to
contribute a modest, but most welcome outreach support
to a variety of local groups and needy persons.